This past year I did a MAJOR overhaul of my music room. Positivity had become a focus in my own life, and a life-changing one at that. I just didn’t feel it walking into my classroom. I figured it was time to make a change. I wanted my students to feel the power of positivity, too.
It didn’t hurt that the district was replacing our boards last summer, and in order to do that, everything on my front wall (the only non-cinder block surface I have) had to be removed. So, I decided to start fresh by asking myself what would spark positivity in my classroom. My focus landed on an image from Doodle Art Alley someone colored and left anonymously in my room: “Do Something Amazing.”
Then I recalled a poster I had found randomly at Ikea that had been sitting in the closet. I constantly impress upon my students that mistakes are a good thing. We want to dive in, give things a go, take risks, which often means making mistakes. This became the center of my front wall:
I love that students allude to this all the time when someone makes a mistake and we offer grace. I also included some uplifting quotes around it. I figure, if I am going to lose the attention of a student whose eyes are wondering (it happens), at least they could have something to read that will resonate some positive thoughts inside them.
This is not to say that my way is right for you and your classroom, but consider your classroom environment from a new student’s perspective. If you want to create a positive classroom learning environment, the physical environment sets the stage. You don’t have to be a Pinterest-ready decorator to set up an inviting music room, but consider these questions:
When you enter your classroom how does it feel? Is it welcoming? Is there a spark of excitement?
What do the words on the walls inside and outside your door say? Perhaps find posters (or make your own) with messages and images that inspire, uplift, and encourage. From your door, find a way to send the message, “Everyone is welcome to make musical magic here.”
Also, consider your posted music room expectations. Do they speak positively to create a welcoming environment?
I spent a lot of time and thought on this because what I wanted was to give students a sense of community. When we work together, we are stronger and better. Classroom expectations should give students ownership of their role on the team and ideally empower them to WANT to be their best, not just because the teacher told them to.
Reframing each No and Don’t can be a simple but powerful shift. For example, instead of “Don’t talk while someone else is talking” try perhaps “Listen Attentively.” Even stronger still are expectations of belonging. For example, “We are all musicians. Musicians are considerate.” I came up with these for my classroom:
I have also found that these yield nicely to questioning for redirection: “Are you striving for excellence right now?” or “Does it sound like we are all striving for excellence?” – “Let’s fix that.” I seem to use these often: “Is that a considerate choice?” or “Are you being mindful of the people around you?” Interestingly, nine times out of ten, this is all I need to do. Ask the question, then ask what would be considerate or mindful…or sometimes even just asking if they will make a more considerate or mindful choice…always followed with a pleasant thank you. I sometimes forget, but having the resources around me, helps remind me to choose positive responses.
Expectations of belonging encourage a growth mindset. Think about it. Even the best musicians make mistakes and strive to be better. We teach more than just music standards. We are building tiny humans and, just as in teaching music, there is always room to improve and grow (and give grace for mistakes) where behavior is concerned. This also includes you, the teacher. Don’t be afraid to admit when you miss the mark. I am a huge fan of letting the kids know when I mess up – and I mess up a lot.
Setting the stage for positivity can help put everyone in the right frame of mind to keep the positive energy going. It’s like keeping healthy food in your refrigerator to help you make better dietary choices. I hear that works…that is something I still need to work on. One thing at a time.